Choosing a Topic

When choosing a historical topic for a National History Day project, students have a few things they might want to keep in mind. Students must be able to connect their historical topic to the competition’s theme, and the topic should not cover too broad a scope of history, but students should also choose to focus on a topic that genuinely sparks their interests. For inspiration, see below for steps to successfully choosing the perfect NHD topic:

1. View the List of Topics Created by NJ History Day

Click here to view the list of New Jersey topics. See the NJ Topics and Awards page for more information about the benefits of choosing a New Jersey topic and eligibility for special New Jersey prizes at the state competition.

2. Keep the Theme in Mind

Students are encouraged to choose a topic that effectively engages the annual theme. For the 2020 theme Breaking Barriers in History, think about what “breaking barriers” means to you. What physical or ideological barriers in history come to mind? See the theme narrative for more guiding questions.

NHD judges are looking for projects that not only follow the contest rules and argue a thesis well but explain why a certain historical topic is the best representation of the competition’s theme. If a project for the 2022-2023 theme Frontiers in History discussed the historical topic but failed to mention connection to the topic, maybe the student(s) did not choose the right topic for the theme.

Thesis Tips

Keep in mind that students will be assessed on how well they address the theme, so topics should allow room for a wide range of research and analysis.

3. Narrow the Scope

NHD projects have particular constraints outlined in the Contest Rule Book (English) / Contest Rule Book (Spanish), such as word limits, size restrictions, or duration caps. Every aspect of an NHD project needs to connect back to the thesis and the competition theme, so students must narrow their topics enough to allow for a wide range of research but also maintain a focused analysis of historical events.

For example, World War II is too broad a topic. But, the Manhattan Project, the attack at Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Executive Order 9066, and the Warsaw Ghetto uprising are narrowed and more focused topics for an NHD project.

4. Consider the Research Process

Students are encouraged to pick topics that show wide research. When choosing topics, it is important to find primary and secondary source materials in archives, libraries, museums, and digital collections. Find books, documentaries, documents, oral histories, historians, people to interview, and audiovisual content to demonstrate an extensive, thoughtful research process. See the resources page as a first step. View the handout below to determine if your topic will pave the way for a successful NHD project.

Topic and Historical Question Analysis

5. Remember Your Interests

One of the best parts of the NHD competition is choosing a topic that is genuinely interesting. It is crucial to pick a topic that meaningfully connects back to family history, a favorite hobby, your hometown, or a subject that sparks interest. An enthusiastic view of your topic will go a long way as you research and will also work in your favor during the judging process at the regional, state, and national levels. Download and view our infographic for inspiration!

What In Your Life Could Inspire the Perfect NHD Topic? - Infographic

NJ History Day Infographic _ Choosing a Topic